The family of a young mother killed after falling from a party bus has filed a wrongful death suit on behalf of her infant daughter. The suit, related to the May 2013 incident, was filed on June 18 in Wyandotte County District Court against Midnight Express. Separately from the lawsuit, the government has ordered the company to cease operation because of its unsafe practices.
On May 4, the 26-year-old victim was celebrating a friend’s bachelorette party when the bus she was on hit a bump while rounding a curve on Interstate 35 in Kansas City, Kan. The victim was sucked outside double doors that suddenly flew open; she was subsequently struck by at least three vehicles.
Initially, those doors were used to accommodate wheelchair passengers, but according to the lawsuit, when Midnight Express bought the bus in 2010, it made “extensive modifications,” some of which resulted in the removal of many of the vehicle’s safety features.
On the night of the fatal accident, the bus driver had unlatched the double doors to load a cooler onto the bus. Instead of re-latching them, she closed them from the inside. Moments later, the double doors “suddenly and unexpectedly flew open” and the victim flew out of the bus and was killed.
The victim’s attorneys issued the following statement:
“Companies that transport passengers for hire must follow regulations designed to protect public safety. Those regulations are often dismissed as heavy-handed government intervention. Hopefully, this case will highlight the importance of those regulations and ensure that other companies comply with safety requirements so that future tragedies are prevented.”
In late May, following the accident, the Department of Transportation (DOT) issued an “imminent hazard” order, prohibiting the company from continuing to operate until it addressed its “appalling” disregard for safety. In the order, DOT wrote, “Midnight Express’ operational structure and safety management controls are so utterly deficient as to substantially increase the likelihood of serious injury or death if not discontinued immediately.” In addition to the problematic doors on the bus, a post-accident inspection of the vehicle found several “egregious regulatory safety violations, including no or defective emergency exit windows.”
The bus was also missing emergency exit markings, and its fire extinguisher was empty, having last been recharged in 2004, six years before Midnight Express purchased the vehicle. Also noted in the report was the fact that the bus’s brake pedal “goes to the floor when depressed” and “the engine exhaust system leaks from beneath the passenger compartment.” Moreover, the company was operating without a required DOT number and did not carry the $5 million in liability insurance required for passenger vehicles.
Worst of all, according to the government?
“The most egregious example of Midnight Express’ utter disregard for safety is reflected in (its) complete failure to establish a system of equipment inspection, maintenance and repair—especially with regard to passenger safety.”